Bob Quinn: 'Drastically Different' Defense Under Patricia Starting To Take Shape

Out with the old, in with the new. 

That's been the theme for Lions general manager Bob Quinn since the arrival last offseason of Matt Patricia. Particularly on defense, the Lions are looking for much different players than they were in the Jim Caldwell era, and those players are now arriving in force. 

If it's going to work, 2019 will be the first significant test. 

"I think we feel better about the team right now than we did a year ago," Quinn told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket. "I think since Matt got here and we've worked together on the roster the last two offseasons, we kind of feel like the defense is more of a defense that Matt’s used to using with multiple players up front that can do different things. Changing the defensive play style from the previous scheme with Teryl (Austin) and Coach Caldwell to what Matt and Coach Pasqualoni are doing, it’s really drastically different in style of player we’re looking for, especially in the front seven. That’s something that takes a little time." 

The Lions' decisions in both the draft and free agency have made that pretty clear. They went from valuing smaller, quicker players in the front seven, to guys who are big, long and versatile. The only real holdovers in that group are Jarrad Davis and A'Shawn Robinson -- a tribute to their flexibility, said Quinn. The rest are either gone or getting phased out.

In the draft this year, Detroit's emphasis on size and versatility led to the picks of linebacker Jahlani Tavai in Round 2, safety Will Harris in Round 3, defensive end Austin Bryant in Round 4 and cornerback Amani Oruwariye in Round 5. 

"Our defensive line and our linebackers are really drastically different type of players than what we had in the previous scheme, with the exception of the two guys that I mentioned before with A’Shawn and J.D," said Quinn. "There’s some players that are good enough to play in any scheme, but some of the smaller, lighter guys that kind of play sideline to sideline really don’t work in this defense. You have to kind of move on from those guys and try to reinvent what you’re doing up front when the coaching staff changes and the coaches want a certain type of player to execute the scheme.

"It’s something that’s an ongoing process. There’s still guys at every position that we’re trying to improve on. The roster, when we go downstairs and start watching the guys in phase 2 of the workouts, which started yesterday, there’s a lot of competition. Every position group has a lot of guys in there that can play, and I think everyone that’s here kind of looks around and says, 'Wow, there’s more players here this year.' I think the players feel it. I know we see it."

Consider how much Detroit's front seven has changed in just two offseasons. Among the linebackers, Tahir Whitehead and Paul Worrilow have departed -- and Jalen Reeves-Maybin's days feel numbered -- while Devon Kennard, Christian Jones and Tavai have arrived. On the defensive line, Trey Flowers, Damon Harrison, Da'Shawn Hand, Romeo Okwara and Bryant have replaced the likes of Ziggy Ansah (injuries played a big factor in this case), Anthony Zettel, Cornelius Washington, Haloti Ngata, Akeem Spence and Khyri Thornton. 

The biggest of those additions came this offseason in the form of Flowers. The defensive end, who blossomed under Patricia in New England, signed a five-year, $90 million contract with the Lions. His arrival was an endorsement of what Patricia is trying to build in Detroit. And Patricia will immediately reap the rewards on the field. 

"Obviously Trey’s an outstanding player, outstanding human being. Just a great guy to have around the building," Quinn said. "Position-wise he can play the right defensive end spot, but also one of his most effective things is he can rush from the inside. You can put him over the center, you can put him over the guard at three technique and he can rush. He’s got extremely long arms for his build and he does a great job playing with instincts, playing with leverage, setting the edge of the defense in the running game and rushing the passer. He’s an every-down player for us that plays a very important position, but the position flex is also huge with our defensive front seven.

"He’s a guy we targeted early on in free agency. ... We felt like there was going to be a strong market for Trey and we tried to put our best foot forward. Fortunately for us, Trey really wanted to be here. That’s what he told us when we finally came to the agreement and we could actually talk to him when free agency opened. He told both Matt and I that he was just so excited when he got the call from his agent that we were interested. I think it speaks volumes to Coach Patricia and the kind of guys that he wants to have around here. Trey’s a passionate football guy. He’s a worker, he comes in every day, he’s consistent, so we’re really happy to have him." 

Other highlights from Quin's interview on 97.1 The Ticket. 
On the possibility of Tavai being drafted by another team in the second round: "I’m pretty convinced that he probably wouldn’t have been there if we traded back, say, 10 to 15 spots. I think he probably would have been gone. Can’t say that for sure because you never know, but we do a pretty in-depth study of what other teams like, what other teams need, what other teams Jahlani, in particular, visited with, what other teams he did private workouts with. I can never say for sure if he’d be there or not, but I think our intelligence told us that if we traded back 10 or 15 spots he probably would never have been there." 
On the value of spending a top-10 pick on tight end T.J. Hockenson: "I think there’s value in any position you look at across the league if you use guys correctly and they’re good players, which we obviously think T.J is. When he went into the draft process we had a bunch of names that we would have liked at that spot, and as the weeks kind of got narrowed down toward the draft, we narrowed in on T.J. We were hoping he was going to be there at No. 8. At the end of the day, it was a very easy decision when we were on the clock. He’s someone that we fully vetted and really put a lot of time and effort into making sure he was a good fit for us on the field as well as off the field."
On drafting players with high character: "It’s something we look at every year. This year with the positions we were looking at in the first four, five rounds, luckily for us some of the guys that we really liked on film really had those traits. So it really made the choices easy. When they check all the boxes it’s really an easy pick -- when they’re productive on the field, they have good testing numbers, they work out well, they’re good kids, they’re good teammates, they have leadership ability. Not every year is going to be like that. I just think this year, with the guys that we homed in on at each of the positions, really made it easier to just take them very quickly because there were no real concerns off the field or anything on the field or testing."
On passing on an offensive lineman in the draft after retirement of T.J. Lang: "We spent a lot of time on the offensive linemen. We just felt at the times when we were picking and the guys that were available, there just wasn’t great value. We’ll have some announcements next week on some rookie free agents that we really feel strong about. I’m not saying those guys are going to compete to start, but I think with the players we have in the offensive line room, the veterans returning -- Graham Glasgow, Frank Ragnow, Joe Dahls, the Kenny Wiggins, (Oday) Aboushi, even Tyrell Crosby, you can throw him in there -- I think there’s a lot of candidates to go in there at right guard. Then you throw in the rookies that will come in next week, we feel really good about the depth of the offensive line. We have a lot of guys that can play multiple positions. We’re excited to see how that all shakes out because there is going to be some really good competition on the interior."